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Washoe County Deputy Sheriff’s comments about Capitol siege spark criticism

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Washington, D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee today said those who stormed the nation’s Capitol building yesterday will be arrested and prosecuted. At the request of  U.S. Capitol Police, D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department helped arrest nearly 70 people for charges relating to the siege.

Contee called the Trump supporters a violent mob and vowed more arrests would be forthcoming.

“We are working with [the FBI] to pursue those responsible for these shameful and violent acts,” he said.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser joined numerous lawmakers in calling the Trump supporters who broke into the Capitol domestic terrorists.

One woman was shot by Capitol Police and three others died of medical issues, Contee said. Dozens of officers were injured in the fracas.

Here at home, while the rioting was occurring, a deputy sheriff with the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office appeared to defend rioters’ actions.

“It doesn’t count when your [sic] looting your own property,” Zachary Malizia posted yesterday on Facebook. “We the people pay the bills there. We bought that podium. We own those politicians. They work for us.”

Malizia, who goes by Zach Michael on Facebook, said that, unlike summer Black Lives Matter demonstrations, no privately owned businesses were damaged yesterday. He added that “my opinions have nothing to do with work” and repeated the false claim that the U.S. general election “was absolutely stolen.”

Washoe County Sheriff Darin Balaam said he condemned yesterday’s violence, but he stopped short of condemning his deputy’s comments. He further hinted that Malizia’s posts did not violate his office’s social media and speech policies.

Washoe County Sheriff Darin Balaam.
Washoe County Sheriff Darin Balaam.

“Sheriff Balaam has and will continue to encourage respectful and thoughtful dialogue among all individuals, while understanding and respecting First Amendment rights,” said Sheriff Public Information Officer Sarah Johns. “The Sheriff’s Office does have a social media policy (linked here), which is also publicly available on the Sheriff’s Office website.”

That policy prohibits “speech or expression that, while not made pursuant to an official duty, is significantly linked to, or related to, the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office and tends to compromise or damage the mission, function, reputation or professionalism of the … Sheriff’s Office or its employees.”

Comments draw rebukes

Malizia’s comments drew immediate criticism — most appeared shocked such comments were actually posted. They appear to have since been deleted.

Many, in the wake of the D.C. riot, noted what they are calling a major discrepancy in how the Capitol siege was handled by law enforcement versus Black Lives Matter demonstrations held last year at the same location.

Holly Welborn of the Nevada ACLU said Malizia’s comments “only underscore the deep-rooted racism, racial bias and white supremacy in policing that was on full display during yesterday’s failed attempt at a coup.”

She called upon law enforcement agencies to “dig deep and examine the way their Washington colleagues engaged with groups, many of whom were white supremacist militia groups, wreaking havoc on our nation’s capital with the sole aim of undermining a legitimate election  – compared to when Black and brown people were shot at with rubber bullets and beaten for marching in the streets to protest police brutality.”

A former law enforcement officer, who did not want to be identified, said Malizia’s comments demonstrate a need to reckon with harmful biases within law enforcement.

“He is sworn to defend the Constitution, as are all law enforcement professionals. We must be able to trust our peace officers to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law,” they said. “[This] makes one question what he would do if employed as a capital police officer. Just because someone says the comments are not work related does not mean they don’t disrupt the agency and public trust.”

Studies have found police bias to be pervasive. An advisory board convened by California’s Attorney General recently recommended police agencies more strongly monitor officers’ online activities.

“Agencies should routinely audit department-issued cell phones and computers issued to in-service officers to ensure those devices are not used for the purposes of exchanging racist or other bigoted or offensive content,” the advisory committee recommended. “Agencies should also proactively conduct a review of their personnel’s social media to identify problematic behavior.”

Accountability questioned 

It is frequently through social media and video footage that actual beliefs and values held by law enforcement officers are brought to light. While many law enforcement leaders publicly say one thing, officers are often documented as doing something different.

“Current and former San Jose Police Department officers were found to have shared racist Facebook posts,” the Associated Press reported this week. “Other agencies, including the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and San Francisco Police Department, have been involved in similar issues.”

NYPD has cost the New York City a half million dollars in the past four years over its officers accused of racism, sexism, transphobia and homophobia. More than 70 lawsuits were filed against the agency, and 14 were settled during that time period for $500,000.

“Almost no officers faced serious consequences in the more than 500 substantiated claims of using offensive language, which took place across almost three decades,” The Intercept reported yesterday. “There’s been only one termination, one instance of a brief suspension, one resignation, and one incident after which the officer was put on probation. In all of the other cases, the officers received penalties ranging from docked vacation days to added training.”

The Intercept noted that many of the complaints against NYPD officers reveal “offensive behavior that gets regular people fired and dragged online.”

Similar behaviors have been documented within the ranks of the Reno and Sparks Police departments. Sparks Police Officer George Forbush is still employed after his publicly available tweets began to get shared locally last year.

The Forbush account posted derogatory comments about activists, Black Lives Matter and Democratic politicians. One tweet suggested demonstrators should be shot and another said demonstrators should “have the shit kicked out of them.”

forbush-st-louis-574x600-6204603-8942564

In response to the viral photo of the McCloskey couple of St. Louis, Missouri, aiming their guns at Black Lives Matter protesters, the Forbush account tweeted, “an accidental discharge would have been extremely satisfying.”

Nevada Independent columnist David Colborne wrote about Forbush in October.

“Sergeant Forbush is not particularly interesting. Much more concerning is the ironclad system of legal and labor protections that he and his fellow police officers operate under,” he said.

Reno Police Officer Ryan Gott faced a complaint after saying Reno’s homeless should be shipped out of state while also making insulting comments to a local homeless advocate. Gott received a commendation after his statements, the complaint and after he was documented harassing and threatening homeless people last year.

Colborne questioned whether law enforcement can ever actually demonstrate accountability.”If police officers aren’t accountable to their police departments or their cities, who are police officers accountable to, other than themselves?”

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Bob Conrad
Bob Conradhttp://thisisreno.com
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. He is also a part time instructor at UNR.

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